Biography of Chandragupta Maurya
Chandragupta Maurya practiced santhara, or Jain ritual starvation, in south India c. 298 BC
In 326 BCE
, Chandragupta Maurya
was just a teenager when Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded India.
Although the world's greatest tactician could not convince his
troops to take on the Nanda Empire, five years after Alexander turned away, a 20-year-old Chandragupta Maurya
would accomplish that feat, and go on to unite almost all of what is now India.
The young Indian emperor would also take on Alexander's successors - and win.
Chandragupta Maurya's Birth and Ancestry:
was born sometime around 340 BCE
, reportedly in Patna, now in the Bihar state of India.
Given the vast span of time since his
birth, it is unsurprising that scholars are uncertain of many details.
For example, some texts claim that both of Chandragupta's parents were of the Kshatriya (warrior/prince) caste, while others state that his
father was a king but his
mother was a maid from the lowly Shudra (servant) caste.
From an early age, Chandragupta
was brave and charismatic - a born leader.
The young man came to the attention of a famous Brahmin scholar, Chanakya, who bore a grudge against the Nanda.
Chanakya began to groom Chandragupta
to conquer and rule in the place of the Nanda Emperor; he
helped the young man to raise an army, and taught him tactics through different Hindu sutras.
allied himself to the king of a mountain kingdom, perhaps the same Puru who had been defeated but spared by Alexander, and set out to conquer the Nanda.
In 321 BCE
, the capital fell, and 20-year-old Chandragupta Maurya
own dynasty - the Mauryan Empire
By about 316, Chandragupta Maurya
was able to defeat and incorporate all of the satraps in the mountains of Central Asia, extending his
empire to the edge of what is now Iran, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Some sources allege that Chandragupta Maurya
may have arranged for the assassination of two of the Macedonian satraps: Philip son of Machatas, and Nicanor of Parthia.
If so, it was a very precocious act even for Chandragupta
- Philip was assassinated in 326 BCE
, when the future ruler of the Mauryan Empire
was still an anonymous teenager.
Push into Seleucid Persia:
In 305 BCE
decided to expand his
empire into eastern Persia.
At the time, Persia was ruled by Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Empire
, and a former general under Alexander.
seized a large area in eastern Persia.
In the peace treaty that ended this war, Chandragupta
got control of that land as well as the hand of one of Seleucus's daughters in marriage.
In exchange, Seleucus got 500 war elephants - which he put to good use at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE.
Conquering Southern India:
With as much territory as he
could comfortably rule to the north and west, Chandragupta Maurya next turned his
With an army of 400,000, according to Strabo, or 600,000, if you believe Pliny the Elder, Chandragupta
conquered all of the Indian subcontinent except for Kalinga (now Orissa) on the east coast, and the Tamil kingdom at the farthest southern tip of the land-mass.
By the end of his
reign, Chandragupta Maurya
had unified almost all of the Indian subcontinent under his
grandson, Ashoka, would go on to add Kalinga and the Tamils to the empire, as well.
The only one of Chandragupta's queens or consorts for whom we have a name is Durdhara, the mother of his
first son, Bindusara.
However, it is likely that Chandragupta
had many more consorts.
According to legend, Prime Minister Chanakya was concerned that Chandragupta
might be poisoned by his
enemies, so started introducing small amounts of poison into the emperor's food in order to build up a tolerance.
was unaware of this plan, and shared some of his
food with his
wife Durdhara when she
was very pregnant with their first son.
traveled south to a cave at Shravanabelogola, now in Karntaka.
There, the founder of the Mauryan Empire meditated without eating or drinking for five weeks, until he died of starvation.
This practice is called sallekhana or santhara.
Chandragupta Maurya's Legacy:
The dynasty that Chandragupta
founded would rule over India and the south of Central Asia until 185 BCE
grandson Ashoka would follow in Chandragupta's footsteps in several ways - conquering territory as a young man, but then becoming devoutly religious as he
In fact, Ashoka's reign in India may be the purest expression of Buddhism
in any government in history.
is remembered as the unifier of India - like Qin Shihuangdi in China, but far less blood-thirsty.
Despite the paucity of records on his
life, Chandragupta's life story has inspired movies such as the 1958 "Samrat Chandragupt," novels, and even a 2011 Hindi-language TV series.
and His Times
, New Delhi: Motalil Banarsidass Publishers